The history of Bengaluru through inscription stones

Leave no stone unturned

Cycling buddies Udaya Kumar and Vinay Kumar have come together for a rather uncommon cause: to help you trace the history of Bengaluru through inscription stones. Astrophysicist Dr B S Shylaja was perhaps their inspiration. In a talk in early 2017, she had mentioned the importance of inscription stones as a key testimony to study the variation of earth’s rotation period. A participant, Uday was now keen to know the origins of his own locality, 

Rajajinagar, where there was supposedly a mention of a lake, in an inscription stone, in the erstwhile village Kethmaranahalli. During his research, he stumbled upon Epigraphia Carnatica, a book written in 1894 by B L Rice, the then director of Mysore Archaeological Department. The book documents nearly 9,000 inscriptions on lithic surfaces and copper plates found in and around Old Mysore region. 

While there was a mention of the lake in the book, Uday’s effort to locate the inscription stone was not successful. However, this exercise left a lasting impression and perhaps, marked the beginning of this inscription stones journey. What started as a curiosity evolved into a passion and Vinay joined Uday in the exploration. They then embarked on a journey, called Inscription Stones of Bangalore, to discover and identify the inscription stones that tell tales about the city’s history. 

“It is important that people make their inferences about our origins based on pure facts,” says Vinay Kumar, an innovation consultant. B L Rice’s documentation is detailed but challenging because the city itself has evolved and developed to a large extent. Huge residential areas have cropped up leaving no traces of the past.

Interestingly, some inscription stones date back to 750 AD, mentioning places like the current K R Puram, Hebbal and so on. The inscription stone found in Hebbal is supposed to be the oldest one, dating back to 750 AD, and all efforts to raise a pedestal and preserve it in its original location have been initiated. Of the 150 stones documented by B L Rice in this area, they have been able to trace 30. At the same time, they have traced four stones that were not documented by
B L Rice. The rest are presumed to be mostly destroyed due to the lack of awareness, and misconceptions. 

Through an in-depth analysis of the stones, using digital technology and inferencing, it is indicated that the name Bengaluru first appeared in 1905 in the current Begur, interestingly, a Battle of Bengaluru is cited in the inscription stone. It also indicates that perhaps Jains were the earliest inhabitants of Begur. Another Tamil inscription in Madiwala mentions Bengaluru. It is evident that the stones were used for various communicative purposes — the building of lake ordered by a king, local chieftain announcing taxes of different kinds, land grants, governance practices, eclipses, trade and commerce, and so on. 

A stone inscription at Jakkur from the Hoysala period, dated 1342 CE, records the gift of the land of Jakkur by a local chieftain to the village accountant, Allala, as a sarvamanya kodige (tax exemption to lands or villages, conferred as a privilege by the rulers). On the top corners of the front face of the stone tablet are symbols of the sun and the moon, signifying that the proclamation on the stone holds good for eternity. Another inscription found in Allalasandra is dated to the regency of
Sadashivaraya of the Vijayanagar kingdom and records the grant of the village of Allalasandra to Lord Allalanatha of Jakkur within the Shivanasamudra region of the Elahaka-nad (Yelahanka). The grant was on ashta-bogha-teja-svamya terms, implying complete ownership of all the rights over the property. The stone is a testimony to the advanced legal acumen of the people. 

Digitised preservation

Both Udaya and Vinay are engineers, mechanical and aerospace respectively, and believe in rational thinking. For them, objectively and logically analysing the stones comes naturally and thus, becomes the most challenging and critical part of this initiative. There are so many challenges as the stones are partially destroyed in some cases, in some other cases, vermilion, turmeric and oil applied over years have dulled the inscription and the writing. One of the key tasks, therefore, is to ensure that they are preserved intact, and above all, preserved for posterity. 

They use technology and digitisation to ensure that it is preserved in its original form. They have used modern tools like social media, digital maps and cameras, 3D scanners and printers, to document and narrate stories about the stones. Last year, in an exhibition, themed, Inscription Stones of Bengaluru, they displayed 25 photos with translation, history and transliteration of the inscriptions. They also created posters with QR Codes which provided links to the location on Google Maps. India Post released a special cover and special postal cancellation seal to commemorate the exhibition.

Many like-minded individuals and groups have joined hands to make this a meaningful activity. The Revival Heritage Hub led by Rajeev Nrupatunga and his team are assisting the duo in their field exploration and research activities including discovering stones and assisting in developing and documenting the information. In an individual capacity, Dhanpal, a BMTC tour operator, assists in field research activities and is a part of the team’s preservation efforts.

Epigraphists like Prof Narasimhan and Dr P V Krishnamurthy help the team decipher the language, Halegannada or Old Kannada, on the inscription stones. Historian Dr S K Aruni contributes to a large extent in contextualising the individual pieces of data found in the inscription stones. Architect Yashaswini Sharma’s role is to develop shelters for each of the inscription stones and her shelter designs are reflective of the cultural milieu of the period of the inscription stone. For instance, the stone in Hebbal is developed in the Ganga style of architecture. Design and engineering students have also contributed by developing video content and a software code to digitise Epigraphia Carnatica. This code can automatically recognise scripts on the inscription stone. In addition, there are various historians and heritage enthusiasts from across the world, who, through Facebook, have contributed to the growth and success of this initiative.

Our heritage, our efforts

Their hard work has paid off and more people are joining this initiative. Inscription stones from 10th and 14th centuries in Jakkur village were preserved and relocated to a safe location by the locals. More such efforts are taken up and social media continues to be a big contributor to ensure higher levels of dissemination.

Through this, they are able to drive greater and qualitative awareness. The Pattanduru Lake was, in fact, recorded as a wasteland and was encroached. A public interest litigation was filed when they discovered an inscription stone in a graveyard that mentioned a lake, which was built during the times of King Raja Raja Chola. Collaborative efforts are being worked out to take the initiative to the next level. They plan to set up virtual museums and increase 3D scanning and digitisation efforts in the future. They are also partnering with Wikipedia to write articles in the regional language and in English. They worked with colleges to undertake 3D scanning of stones, which was the first of its kind in the country, a significant initiative considering the threat of possible physical damage in the future. 

The stones are a recorded narrative about our past – our origins, ways of living, the evolution of language, beliefs and traditions, economics, values, and much more. Predominantly, Kannada, Tamil and Telugu languages are found on these inscriptions, reflecting the various dynasties that ruled our land. It is important to preserve, and this can happen when people take up the responsibility to maintain and preserve inscription stones in their locality and community. Like in Jakkur and Allalasandra where local citizens moved the stones to a safer place, initiatives like this will pave the way for preserving our antiquity. 

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